SEE – an excellent new article: David Wilson, “She poisoned 21 people including her own mother, children and husbands. So why has no-one heard of Britain's FIRST serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton?” Daily Mail (London), Feb. 5, 2012
FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): The Durham Assizes have commenced, before Mr. Justice Archibald and Mr. Baron Pollock. The former, who presided in the Criminal Court, in charging the grand jury, referred to the case of Mary Ann Cotton, who is charged with the murder of no less than four persons. In cases of this kind, his Lordship observed, the jury could not expect direct evidence of the administration of poison, but there were cases for which circumstantial evidence was peculiarly cogent and convincing. True bills were subsequently found in all the cases against the prisoner. His Lordship requested Mr. Campbell Forster to undertake her defence. The trial opens to-day.
[Untitled, The Sun & Central Press (London, England), Mar. 5, 1873, p. 9]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): The series of cold-blooded murders for which Mary Ann Cotton was hanged in Durham Gaol, last Monday morning, are crimes against which no punishment known in history could make way. The woman appears to have been utterly devoid of a sense of the heinousness of her crimes. She rocked the child on her knees to-day, that she was to poison tomorrow. She kept the body of one victim unburied, till she had finished off another, in order to make one funeral ceremony do for the two. Most of her murders were committed for petty gains, as a small policy, or a burial fee; but the last was merely to get a boy out of the way, because he prevented her from going out to work. She killed off husbands and children with the unconcern of a farm girl killing poultry. The woman showed no violent passions. Her conduct provoked no suspicions—until she had cleared her house of every living soul. That such a human creature can grow in the midst of our civilisation, is a deplorable fact to ponder. Mary Ann Cotton appears to have been open to appeals from the gaol chaplain; to have prayed heartily; to have repented. We can only infer from her last moments, that until she had steeped herself to the lips in blood, and had reached the condemned cell, the tinker's daughter never got within reach of lessons that could touch her heart. Her bad passions had unrestrained play; she was ignorant, hard—with no sense save that of self. While we pause in horror over the story of this wholesale murderess, we must remember that society is particeps crimums; and that we should neither pause nor rest till the schoolmaster has reached the heart as well as the brain of every creature born of woman.
[“Mary Ann Cotton.” Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Mar. 30, 1873, p. 7]
For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.